Ventura County's Support-Local Program

Finding Heroes

Watching the movie 42 reminded me of my dad using sports heroes to instill life lessons. But who are today’s heroes? And what have we learned?

While watching the movie 42  the other night I was reminded of the lessons that my father worked so hard to instill in my brothers and me. These examples usually involved sports heroes and always included a sports analogy or two. The goal was to teach us to be team players; to understand our weaknesses, work on them and not to rely solely on our strengths. He would say that practice builds up your weak spots and makes you a well-rounded player. He wanted us to do the right thing and to learn to make the hard choices when needed.

Life lessons from sports heroes of the past


National Heroes: Jackie Robinson and Branch Rickey

You see, we grew up, as my father would say, in a “baseball family.” My grandfather Kelly had a short stint playing for the Boston Red Sox and my uncle, Mike Palagyi, played for the Washington Senators. (Factoid: my uncle is one of the oldest former professional ball players alive today – currently 96 years old.) So my father, grandfather and uncle loved to tell us stories about heroes like Brooklyn Dodgers President/GM Branch Rickey and the incomparable Jackie Robinson, the great pitcher Satchel Paige and, of course, the “The Yankee Clipper” himself, Joe DiMaggio. Many of these stars became my heroes growing up and, a bit later, I added in a few surf legends to the list as well. Examples set for our youth by those in the spotlight. Hmmm…

And what about today’s heroes?

Local Hero: Johnny Fonteyn, Rio Gozo Farm

I started thinking about the so-called heroes of our times. I tried to come up with a few contemporary heroes but, sadly, today’s professional sports players just leave a bad taste in my mouth. I know that there are heroes out there and, after thinking about this for a while, it finally came to me. My heroes of today are our small business owners, entrepreneurs and farmers – the people who take huge challenges head-on every day.

Local Heroes: John and Jennifer Wheir, Beacon Coffee

Unfortunately, there is not too much public support for these small-business heroes. California ranks last among the states as a place to do business according to Chief Executive Magazine. Farmland is dwindling and water is like gold. Here’s a sobering fact: In order to feed the world’s growing population, farmers must produce more food in the next fifty years than they have in the past 10,000 years combined!

My modern-day heroes

Local Heroes: Heather Draughon-Drucker and Derek Turner, /pyür/ real estate

There are huge, daily hurdles that our small businesses must face; that our farmers must tackle. And yet these wonderful folks – these farmers, ranchers and business owners – continue to believe in their dreams. Some of them are even keeping the legacy of several generations alive! They get up daily and help to make our community tick. They create jobs. They feed us. And they bring financial support to our community.

These people are MY heroes. And I hope they will become the heroes of this generation.


I don’t like the subtle infiltration of ‘something for nothing’ philosophies into the very hearthstone of the American family. I believe that ‘Thou shalt earn the bread by the sweat of thy face’ was a benediction and not a penalty. Work is the zest of life; there is joy in its pursuit.

~ Branch Rickey, President and GM, Brooklyn Dodgers

Image credits: Denise Dewire and Goran.

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Learn more about author Kat Merrick

Kat Merrick

About the author

Kat Merrick made her mark in the apparel world as an innovative leader and founder of Surf Chick Inc. With over 25 years of extensive experience managing worldwide capacity apparel facilities, companies and product, her superior leadership skills, practiced in directing cross-functional global teams to design, brand, source develop and marketing, won her world-wide recognition and awards. She is considered an expert in the areas of trend studies, brand building and marketing. At 23 years old she opened her first successful retail business in Ventura County, Since then, Kat has owned and operated several very successful retail and wholesale operations and assisted numerous multi-category small businesses to achieve success. Highly respected by many local small business owners, growers, artists and locals, she has been tagged as "the Shop Local girl". Kat's extensive travels, strong business knowledge and desire to make a positive impact locally helped inspire her to create Totally Local VC. A Ventura County resident since 1978, single mother of two and long-standing advocate for support of local small business and all that is Ventura, founder and developer of Totally Local VC, Kat brings her passion for our community to all she does. Her writings, posts and blog reflect her love of family, friends and community and desire to help.


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